Building Strength: Strength Training Attitudes and Behaviors of All-Women's and Coed Gym Exercisers

Andrea Elizabeth Mercurio, Brandi N Rima, Katrina Obleada


Research suggests varied reasons why women may avoid engaging in a regular strength training routine at the gym in favor of performing cardiovascular exercise (e.g., Harne & Bixby, 2005). However, there has been little research focused on the potential role of the gym environment itself, specifically in terms of the presence of men. The current study compared women members of all-women’s and coed fitness facilities on their attitudes toward different exercise activities as well as their exercise choices within the gym. A community sample of women from the Northeast US, who attended either an all-women’s or coed gym (N = 635), filled out a series of online questionnaires. We hypothesized that all-women gym members would report more positive attitudes towards strength training and would report attitudes towards strength training and cardio that were more similar in favorability compared with coed gym members. In addition, we expected all-women exercisers to engage in strength training activities (e.g., weight machine or free weights) more frequently than coed exercisers, especially if they also reported higher body dissatisfaction. Results were mixed and hypotheses received only partial support. Although all-women members rated strength training more positively and more similarly in magnitude to cardio compared with coed members, little differences were found between groups on strength training behaviors. Null findings are discussed in light of existing socio-cultural beauty and exercise norms that may deter women from engaging in strength training irrespective of male presence within the gym environment. More research is needed to explore the potential positive and negative consequences of same-sex and mixed-sex fitness settings for women’s physical and mental health. 


women; exercise; strength training; weight lifting; fitness; gender norms

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